Las Vegas to fight HIV with vending machines for needles

Las Vegas is adopting a new approach to counter rising heroin and HIV rates: vending machines of clean needles.

However, the syringe exchange vending machines, a first in the US, would not be open to just anyone walking by and would be accessible to clients of Trac-B Exchange, a programme run by the Las Vegas Hard Reduction Center.

The machines also do not take money; users could scan a card and enter a unique ID number in order to vend one of the colorfully gift-wrapped boxes inside.

"This is a harm reduction approach," said Chelsi Cheatom, program manager for Trac-B Exchange, in an interview with NBC Las Vegas affiliate KSNV. "People are already exchanging in these behaviors, and anytime someone's engaging in a behavior that could cause them some potential health side effects, we want to encourage them to reduce their risk of harm."

In collaboration with the Southern Nevada Health District and the Nevada AIDS Research and Education Society (NARES), the centre installed the new machines, which would be available at three different locations by the end of May. Each client would receive two kits a week and each box would contain alcohol wipes, safe sex supplies, and a needles disposal box.

Similar models were in use in Australia, Puerto Rico, and Europe, but this was the first time that the concept had been introduced in the US.

According to state authorities, the vending machines would encourage people to use clean needles while injecting drugs, or when used for any other purpose. Needle sharing and contaminated needle usage has led to several cases of Hepatitis C or HIV among people.

Drug use through injection caused 6 per cent of the new cases of HIV in 2015. But statistics showed that around 45 per cent of the new Hepatitis C cases propagated due to sharing of contaminated needles. This rate was even higher in the rural areas of the country.